Providing for Consideration of Conference Report on H.R. 1429, Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007

Date: Nov. 14, 2007
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Education



Mr. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART of Florida. Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Castor) for the time, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

It's important for the future of our children that they develop the skills and receive the education necessary to make them a success later in life. Unfortunately, many children begin their education without a proper foundation, putting them at a disadvantage that has long-term effects on their education. We must do all we can so that low-income children do not begin their education at a disadvantage, and that is why Head Start was created.

In order to give the children the proper foundation they need to begin their education, the Head Start program provides comprehensive early child development services to about 900,000 children from low-income families. These services prepare children to enter kindergarten with a proper educational foundation for their continued educational success to hopefully break the chain of poverty. The underlying bipartisan conference report builds on the success of the program and alleviates some of its shortcomings.

The bill authorizes over $7 billion in fiscal year 2008. For fiscal year 2009, it authorizes a 4.1 percent increase. And for fiscal year 2010, there's an additional 4.5 percent increase.

It is important that the children in Head Start receive the best education possible. There are several provisions in the conference report that will help with that goal. First, the legislation seeks to ensure that a greater number of early Head Start teachers are better trained and educated in early childhood development, with a focus on infant toddler development, no later than September 30, 2012. Additionally, the conference report requires that at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers nationwide in center-based programs have a baccalaureate or advanced degree in early childhood education or related field by September 30, 2013.

Madam Speaker, competition encourages better quality. As recommended by a 2005 GAO study, this legislation seeks to increase competition among Head Start grantees to help weed out poor performers and foster stronger programs.

There is also a need for greater oversight of the program grantees. This legislation requires Head Start agencies to create a formal structure of program governance for assessing the quality of services received by the Head Start children and families, and for making decisions related to program design and implementation.

The bill also seeks greater transparency and disclosure regarding how Head Start funds are spent. This will help prevent abuse and further ensure that Federal Head Start funds reach the disadvantaged children that they are meant to reach.

The conference report kept the House's unanimously passed motion to instruct language limiting the compensation of a Head Start employee to Executive Level II, which equals $168,000. This is to prevent Head Start employees from receiving excessive salaries and bonuses, like in some past experiences.

With regard to a child's eligibility in a Head Start program, the conference report allows Head Start agencies to serve children whose parents earn 130 percent above the poverty level. The conference report caps the amount of participants that can be served at the increased level to 35 percent of all participants, and only if the agency can prove that they are serving all eligible participants at the poverty level.

Other important provisions included in the conference report are to continue the eligibility of faith-based organizations as Head Start agencies. Head Start has a proud history of inclusion of faith-based organizations. Approximately 80 grantees have religious affiliations.

With regard to our children's safety, the conference report requires background checks for those who transport children to Head Start centers.

I wish to thank both Chairman Miller and Ranking Member McKeon for their bipartisan work on this important legislation. This important legislation goes to show, Madam Speaker, that when we are willing to work together and compromise, we can bring forth good legislation with bipartisan support.

I urge my colleagues to support the conference report, which I believe is instrumental to the educational success of many children.

At this time, Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.